The very first job I had in the charity sector was as a fundraising assistant for ChildLine in Manchester.
With the Institute of Fundraising National Convention coming up, I was recently reminded of my first fundraising conference in the early 2000s. Every ChildLine fundraiser got together in the midlands to share best practice and learn from a range of excellent speakers.
One of those speakers asked a question that really stuck in my mind – what do you need to be a good fundraiser? I’ll come back to the reason it stuck in my mind. Here’s my answer today, over a decade later.
The very nature of asking people for money for a cause means that some of them (maybe most of them) will say no. Some won’t mince their words in saying it either. And you just have to soak up their words with good grace, a smile and go again. Go to the next person, group or organisation and make the same ask, knowing the same result is quite possible. That takes real resilience.
2. An understanding of their audience
Fundraising is all about improving the lives of others. But other people benefit too, particularly those who give the money. Companies look good for donating thousands to you, people feel good when they text a £5 donation. Knowing what benefit your audience stands to gain from donating to you is important when planning how to connect with them, how to convince them that both your priorities and theirs are important.
3. A way with words
Whether you’re a corporate fundraiser working with CSR partners, a trust fundraiser working almost exclusively in the written word or a digital fundraiser using web content to inspire their audience, a strong command of language is essential.
Words are what inspire people to believe in your vision enough to write a big cheque to help you achieve it. They’re what make corporate teams compete fiercely with each other to raise you the most money. They are what brings the average donation up from one fundraising email to the next. Knowing the combination of words that works for your charity is essential.
4. The ability to connect
Going hand in hand with a way with words is the ability to connect to other people.
It’s easy to forget that at the end of every trust application, Charity of the Year submission and email blast is another human being. They care about people, just like the ones you’re trying to help with your fundraising efforts, and just like you.
Words help you connect with the person on the other end, but there’s an intangible personal quality that’s also needed – the ability to get others. The people who have it in droves are the ones who can get their message across.
5. Pride in their profession
If you’re prepared to use your skills in a job that pays less for the same work in other sectors, you need to be proud of what you do. Your efforts raise money that pays for life saving work, work that changes lives irrevocably for the better.
And it’s not just your own internal voice telling you you could earn more that you have to deal with – it’s the seemingly endless external attacks on charities and how they raise and use money. CEOs get paid too much. Chuggers are a public menace. Charities should raise all their money by quietly holding a collection pot on a high street.
I liked the Institute of Fundraising’s #ProudFundraiser campaign a lot for this reason. It’s a profession to be truly proud of.
And the reason the speaker’s question stuck in my head was that after a discussion along the lines of the above, he asked how many of the things a fundraiser needs are professional qualifications and skills. Answer: very few. They certainly help, but the qualities above are prerequisites. And they can be fostered by connecting to other fundraisers.
Look forward to similarly thought-provoking discussions the IoF National Convention.